Utilizing your right to demand a Prior Written Notice (PWN) is huge when used properly and not enough parents use it or are aware of what it is. When you make a request in writing or at an IEP meeting, they can’t just say “no.” They are required to provide you with a PWN. You either get what you asked for and they add it to the IEP, or you get the written documentation (PWN) which describes what you requested, the district denied your request, and the reasons why the district denied it.
As you know, the IEP is not just a document or one meeting. It is a process to develop a special education program that meets the needs of a student. A good special education advocate will teach you how to translate your concerns into IEP language that the district must respond to, which gives you an advantage in getting what your child needs. The PWN is one of those IEP process strategies.
The special education system is not fair or just. They do not work in the best interest of children or out of compassion for parents of students on an IEP. Not only is it not fair, but the IEP process is also stacked against parents because your child’s IEP is placed upon your shoulders. Although school districts are tasked with the duty to meet the needs of students, this is not the reality of what really happens in the trenches. This is the broken sped system.
The best we can do is become a knowledgeable advocate for our child. And the PWN is a powerful advanced IEP tool that ALL parents can implement!
So, when you’re in an IEP meeting and you make a request, the IEP team will most likely employ scripted denial and delay tactics they are taught to use. They are simply using an easier way of saying no without actually saying it. This is their game and every district plays it. A few ways the district denies without coming right out and saying “no” can sound like:
- I don’t think your child needs that.
- Why don’t we ‘wait and see’ and talk about it in a few months?
- I have to discuss this with someone with more authority and then I’ll get back to you (but they don’t, purposefully.)
- Why don’t we table that until (fill in the blank ~ after we do further testing, let us try this intervention for 6 weeks, 3 months) and then come back and discuss it.
You are now at an impasse in the IEP process. They’ve got you and you don’t know what to do. But there’s a tool in place for parents to use to hold them accountable and that is the PWN! It is the most effective and most little-known tool for parents in the IEP process.
What is PWN/Prior Written Notice?
The term prior written notice can be confusing to parents because it sometimes leads them to believe it is a document provided before (prior) to a meeting, similar to a meeting notice, it is not. A PWN is to be provided after a decision is made but before it is implemented.
Under IDEA, when the district is the one who decides to make a change, they must provide parents a PWN.
Most importantly, when a parent requests a change, the district must provide a PWN to the parent to legally document their decision to either approve or deny their request.
*** Please note the red bolded bullet points below. This is what parents can use to demand a PWN response to your parent requests. Specifically, the school must provide parents with prior written notice each time that it:
- proposes to initiate or change the identification, evaluation, or educational placement of your child
- proposes to initiate or change the provision of FAPE to your child (free and appropriate public education)
- refuses to initiate or change the identification, evaluation, or educational placement of your child (as a response to your request)
- refuses to initiate or change the provision of FAPE to your child (as a response to your request)
Below is the actual IDEA law for a PWN.
When a parent asks for an evaluation, change of placement, change of eligibility category, service or increase in service, aide, ESY, compensatory education, etc., if the district refuses, they are obligated to give you written notice as to why and that’s the PWN.
Saying “no” is just too easy for most IEP teams. However, forcing them to articulate in writing the reasons why they are refusing to agree to your request to help your child is difficult!
“A PWN requires the district to document an explanation of why the local education agency refuses to take action and deny the parents’ request with a description of each evaluation procedure, assessment, record, or report the agency used as a basis for the refused action” (20 U.S.C. 1415(c)). As a parent or advocate, we can remain nice and let the law be the bad guy! And the PWN can do that for you.
The PWN solidifies a decision for your parent request of either approval or denial and creates a legal paper trail record that can help in future IEP meetings, winning compensatory services, writing a compliance complaint or OCR complaint, and filing for mediation or due process. The PWN also forces the district to explain themselves in writing instead of arbitrarily saying “no” to you in a meeting or spout off an unjust delay tactic.
Next time you’re in a meeting and you get a “no” or delay tactic response to your request, simply say, “I understand, please send that to me in a Prior Written Notice.” If you put your request in writing and they send you an email without a PWN, do the same thing. If they don’t provide you with a PWN in writing, you can politely remind them of their obligation under IDEA to provide you a PWN. If they don’t comply, call your State DOE and ask about how to file a compliance complaint because your district refused to follow IDEA. Or you can file a Civil Rights Complaint for a violation of FAPE.
So now you know how to respond when they give you a verbal “no” or try and gaslight you with one of their disingenuous tactics. You have power to hold them accountable!
If you’d like help writing a Partial Consent letter, schedule a 60-minute consultation with me HERE.
If you haven’t joined our Private Special Education Parent Empowerment Facebook Group yet, you should check it out here.
Here’s what parents are saying about the group:
“You are mind blowing talented & so incredibly generous sharing this valuable information for all of us folks!” – Margie
Valerie Aprahamian is a special education advocate, IEP strategist, and speaker. She speaks on behalf of parents to protect the rights of neurodiverse children to receive the supports they need in public school.